Harmony Korine was reportedly only 19 years old when he wrote the script for a teenage drama about sexually promiscuous, drugs and alcohol abusing and HIV-positive adolescents in New York City, known as Kids. Film, otherwise directed by Larry Clark, created a considerable amount of controversy at the time, but has since became a cult classic. It also kick-started Korine’s career, who soon became recognizable as one of the weirdest, most bizarre and disturbing American writers/directors. His next film Gummo was set in Xenia, Ohio, a town devastated by a tornado, with a teenage glue-sniffing protagonist who kills cats in his spare time and sells them to a local restaurant supplier. It’s safe to say that there’s hardly any other film-maker who would manage to write a screenplay so horrifying and fascinating at the same time, but even though most of his work got nothing but praise from film critics and fellow film-makers (such as Gus van Sant and Werner Herzog), his films never managed to reach mainstream audience. Until now. Spring Breakers was proclaimed a cult classic almost the second it hit the theatres – it was also Korine’s first film that actually made some money (it grossed $31 million worldwide which is more than all of his previous films together). The main reason for that was the cast: ex-Disney princesses like Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife Rachel Korine were the ones that drove people to the cinema. However, people who went into theatres clueless about who Harmony Korine was, knowing only the previous work of mentioned girls, were probably in for a shocking surprise.
Film history has quite possibly never seen a more drastic makeover than that of Vanessa Hudgens. With Spring Breakers she turned from a High School Musical Disney princess to a cold-blooded, sociopathic college girl who is willingly breaking the law and crossing all social rules imaginable in pursuit of the American Dream (that quite soon turns into American Nightmare). Barely legal, innocent-looking teen queens snorting cocaine, shooting automatic guns, robbing local restaurants and slowly getting more and more corrupt while all through the film wearing nothing more than neon-colored bikinis… A satire about the distorted American values could hardly get any better than that . Another plus in casting is almost unrecognisable James Franco as Alien, who bails the girls out of jail and pulls them even further into the world of crime and danger.
The annual spring break is the embodiment of American youth’s distorted and hedonistic values and the first few minutes of the film actually look like some MTV show that glamorised spring break all those years ago. Film opens with a beach party full of half-naked, beer-soaked girls dancing in the pool with agressive Skrillex’s dubstep playing in the background. It then flashes back to the college attended by four friends that dream of going to Florida. And since none of them has enough money for a trip to Partyland, three of them decide to rob a Chicken Shack with ski masks, water pistols and hammers. After the robbery they can finally board the bus and head to Florida where days and nights merge into one long party full of alcohol, drugs and random sexual encounters. However, they soon get arrested for possession and after spending a night in jail, they get bailed out by a drug and arms dealer/rapper Alien who invites the girls into his world of drugs, guns, golden teeth and amorality. But what is even more compelling than the quasi-transformation of the girls after their encounter with a white gangsta rapper is that they’re far from being helpless victims that got caught up with the wrong people – they’re very much willing participants in all the illegal activities. They are amoral from the beginning; Alien just helps them to fully embrace this new way of living where you take for yourself whatever and however you want, no matter the consequences.
Selena Gomez is playing Faith, a religious and God fearing teen that is conflicted by what is happening around her. She is the only one that doesn’t participate in the robbery of the Chicken Shack and after the other three are reliving the robbery one night, showing her how they did it, she finally realizes who she’s friends with, seeing them for what they really are for the first time. But it’s not until meeting Alien that she starts to doubt her being in Florida is really such a great idea, which leads to her leaving the never-ending party, returning back to the reality.
After Faith’s departure, the girls move in with Alien, a self-made man who’s living some kind of deranged and corrupted American Dream. But even though he is a drug dealer and a gangster that’s seducing the girls with his guns and money, he is hardly the bad guy here for it isn’t long before the girls start to manipulate him, pushing him further towards his self-destruction.
One of the most memorable scenes in this film is without a doubt the one where Franco starts playing Britney Spears’ »Everytime« on a piano – and when Britney’s real song takes over, the scene suddenly turns into a crime spree, with Alien and the girls, (who are wearing nothing but their bikinis, pink ski masks and automatic guns) crashing parties and robbing people. Is it supposed to be a coincidence that »Everything«, a song of a former Disney girl and pop queen who at one point »broke bad«, is playing during the robbery of teen queens (played by former Disney princesses) currently on a breaking bad mission? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen such a messed up, violent and disturbing scene that would look more poetic.
Benoît Debie’s cinematography is intensely bright and luminous and the use of unnatural neon lights makes the whole film feel completely unreal and hypnotic – which is perfect for a film that tries to strengthen the sense of a fantasy world that Alien and the girls build for themselves. Overall, this is a film about distorted American values and about the hedonistic hell that for some reason seems like paradise to so many young people.
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, James Franco
Running Time: 94 minutes